Decimal Time

I’m sure that there’s a time in everyones life when they get frustrated with the way we measure time. It may well have been very convenient for the Babylonians, with their love of fractions to have so many sixties all over the place (60 has a lot of divisors), but us modern folks tend to prefer doing things in terms of 10s or 100s.

The first time this annoyed me I quickly worked out what I thought a metric time system would look like, and wrote a program for my RiscPC in Basic that showed two clock faces, one for the standard and one for my version of decimalised time. Today I thought I’d revisit it, so here it is in javascript and canvas (if it doesn’t display the numbers on the clock face, that’s because you’re using an old browser).:

The second equivalent is 864 milliseconds, which allows us to have 100 second-equivalents in a minute-equivalent, 100 minute-equivalents in an hour-equivalent and 10 hour-equivalents in a day. I figured that days better stay the same length, because it’s handy for organisational purposes. I’ve put the 0 point at midnight, and because the whole 24 hours is once round a face, I’ve made the bottom half roughly correspond to night, and the top half roughly correspond to day.

I did come up with alternative names – I called the second equivalents sonds, the minute equivalents mintes and the hour equivalents hurs. 1 sond is 0.864 seconds, 1 minte is 1 minute 26 seconds, 1 hur is 2 hours 24 minutes. But the idea really is to stop using the current system and use a decimalised one so you don’t even really need to convert between the two.

It’s very easy to do maths with this system because numbers carry in the expected way, so 1:78:33 + 40:90 = 2:19:23.

When I first did it, the possibility of using it in everyday life was very slim – I would have needed a custom watch. Now I don’t have a watch, I use my phone instead, and it’d be fairly easy to write a widget for it that displays the decimalised time.


This is distressing. I had thought that there was a reasonable argument to be made that adults in modern society are a lot more individualistic and skeptical of authority than in the early 1960s. Apparently that was just wishful thinking on my part.

Firefox 3.1b1pre (includes tracemonkey) vs Google Chrome

The one that’s faster on everything except date, regex and some string is google chrome.
Test was sunspider-0.9. Of course, this is a firefox nightly build, so it may well improve, but then so may Chrome.

My Mistake. Actually the figures below are with jit not enabled. I enabled it and tried to rerun the test. It was looking as if it would be even faster than Chrome, but then half way through it crashed the entire browser. Oh well.

Rant On A Related Note: does saying 1.49x as fast make any sense? Fastness isn’t a measure unless you mean velocity, which doesn’t have an obvious meaning in this case, since there is no reliable measure of the ground to be covered. The measure that makes sense is how long something takes, so 2x slower makes sense – it takes twice the time. Saying 2x faster implies that there is some measure of fastness that has increased. It seems to me that logically, fastness is a measure of the time it didn’t take, not 1 over the time it did take. Of course, the time it didn’t take is so large as to be unusable as a way of thinking, so maybe we could stick with things like “took half the time”, or maybe even “half as slow”, rather than these imaginary “fastness” measures.

TEST                   COMPARISON            FROM                 TO             DETAILS


** TOTAL **:           1.49x as fast     7574.0ms +/- 5.2%   5081.8ms +/- 7.2%     significant


  3d:                  2.47x as fast      917.8ms +/- 6.4%    371.4ms +/- 7.3%     significant
    cube:              3.26x as fast      319.2ms +/- 9.1%     97.8ms +/- 17.3%     significant
    morph:             1.75x as fast      266.2ms +/- 1.3%    151.8ms +/- 9.7%     significant
    raytrace:          2.73x as fast      332.4ms +/- 8.4%    121.8ms +/- 21.2%     significant

  access:              4.31x as fast     1148.2ms +/- 5.4%    266.6ms +/- 14.8%     significant
    binary-trees:      8.38x as fast      145.8ms +/- 23.3%     17.4ms +/- 10.8%     significant
    fannkuch:          5.87x as fast      517.4ms +/- 3.9%     88.2ms +/- 17.2%     significant
    nbody:             3.36x as fast      349.2ms +/- 4.0%    103.8ms +/- 22.3%     significant
    nsieve:            2.37x as fast      135.8ms +/- 11.5%     57.2ms +/- 14.3%     significant

  bitops:              4.65x as fast      887.4ms +/- 2.1%    191.0ms +/- 10.4%     significant
    3bit-bits-in-byte: 13.1x as fast      193.8ms +/- 6.1%     14.8ms +/- 11.0%     significant
    bits-in-byte:      6.09x as fast      201.0ms +/- 4.1%     33.0ms +/- 9.6%     significant
    bitwise-and:       3.52x as fast      198.8ms +/- 5.6%     56.4ms +/- 17.7%     significant
    nsieve-bits:       3.38x as fast      293.8ms +/- 5.9%     86.8ms +/- 13.1%     significant

  controlflow:         11.3x as fast      113.0ms +/- 4.2%     10.0ms +/- 0.0%     significant
    recursive:         11.3x as fast      113.0ms +/- 4.2%     10.0ms +/- 0.0%     significant

  crypto:              3.00x as fast      537.2ms +/- 7.1%    179.0ms +/- 18.4%     significant
    aes:               2.95x as fast      193.4ms +/- 6.1%     65.6ms +/- 27.4%     significant
    md5:               2.91x as fast      172.4ms +/- 15.9%     59.2ms +/- 19.3%     significant
    sha1:              3.16x as fast      171.4ms +/- 7.0%     54.2ms +/- 18.1%     significant

  date:                *1.39x as slow*    632.4ms +/- 6.2%    880.2ms +/- 8.0%     significant
    format-tofte:      *1.42x as slow*    373.2ms +/- 5.1%    529.4ms +/- 5.8%     significant
    format-xparb:      *1.35x as slow*    259.2ms +/- 8.7%    350.8ms +/- 12.6%     significant

  math:                2.69x as fast      931.0ms +/- 7.1%    345.8ms +/- 11.3%     significant
    cordic:            2.19x as fast      417.6ms +/- 5.9%    190.8ms +/- 16.9%     significant
    partial-sums:      2.81x as fast      328.0ms +/- 15.4%    116.8ms +/- 18.0%     significant
    spectral-norm:     4.85x as fast      185.4ms +/- 7.8%     38.2ms +/- 7.4%     significant

  regexp:              *1.90x as slow*    618.8ms +/- 15.4%   1177.0ms +/- 6.2%     significant
    dna:               *1.90x as slow*    618.8ms +/- 15.4%   1177.0ms +/- 6.2%     significant

  string:              1.08x as fast     1788.2ms +/- 4.2%   1660.8ms +/- 8.0%     significant
    base64:            *1.21x as slow*    161.6ms +/- 7.9%    195.0ms +/- 13.2%     significant
    fasta:             2.08x as fast      363.0ms +/- 7.3%    174.6ms +/- 11.5%     significant
    tagcloud:          *1.39x as slow*    331.8ms +/- 1.7%    460.2ms +/- 9.4%     significant
    unpack-code:       1.20x as fast      702.2ms +/- 5.4%    584.4ms +/- 12.2%     significant
    validate-input:    ??                 229.6ms +/- 9.7%    246.6ms +/- 10.2%     not conclusive: might be *1.07x as slow*

Hurricane, Charity and the New Bronze Age

In this age of war and terrorism, torture, mistrust, wiretapping and the institutionalisation of conspiracy, it can be difficult to believe in anything except the inevitability that the machinery of government will divide, turn brother against brother and nation against nation. From the schoolyard to the boardroom, the impulse to distrust and despise the Other is a familiar and comfortable garment that never stays in the wardrobe long.

Though the polity are not foreign to fear as foreign policy, it is not the only thread running through our experience of international affairs. When hurricane strikes Burma, leaving thousands dead, the whole human race recognises the disaster, and the whole human race joins together to help the stranger from an incomprehensible culture and distant land. To give up some of your own comfort for your family is normal, even expected. To help a neighbour in trouble, it’s normative, to help those from your own country unknown to you is praiseworthy, but to help those on the other side of the world can only mean a recognition of the humanity, value and similarity of those our political machineries are devised to keep us separate from, to teach us how different they are.

And though this empathy is not universal, it gives me hope. No international cooperation in war is like the cooperation in aid, spreading so wide, taking in such diverse people, creating new links directly between individuals.

The hope is not just for the people suffering disaster, it is a hope for the future of the human race.

4000 years ago, the bronze age changed the face of humanity. It brought tools so far beyond the best that stone could produce that it created the possibility for empires, for organisation and life that looked beyond the local.

But it is a simple fact that inspires me most about Bronze. Its ingredients, tin and copper are almost never found together in nature. Stone, wood and bone, the raw materials for the tools in common use before the dawn of the bronze age were picked up and scavenged from the local environment of the individual. Cooperation was helpful, but not necessary. But no one man can mine both the copper and the tin he needs to cast a simple bronze blade. For the bronze age to come about, there had to be trade and sharing of knowledge between diverse and separated cultures. The key innovation was not the bronze itself, it was the social organisation that made bronze possible, indeed inevitable. Without the Neolithic social network of links between people spreading beyond the horizons of any one of them, there could have been no bronze, and no bronze age.

I hope that the forces that limit our empathy, our horizons will not remain strong for long, that the impulse to link will beat the impulse to fear. When our horizons grow, so grows our potential. And who knows what technology can emerge and is now emerging from a world where individuals link across boundaries of race and wealth and age and geography. Technologies that can define an age.

I’m a stone age trader, hoping for the next bronze age.

Recent notable HARDtalks

Dissident writer Liao Yiwu spent four years in jail after writing an epic poem about the Tiananmen Square massacre. In a rare interview, Liao talks to Stephen Sackur. on iplayer, the interview webpage

When the pictures of torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison flashed around the world in April 2004 most people were shocked. But the images were eerily familiar to Professor Philip Zimbardo, as they were very reminiscent of those he himself had taken during the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which he devised in 1971. Stephen Sackur talks to him about the parallels and the lessons we should learn. on bbc programmes (I have this one recorded, let me know if you want to borrow it).

Res Judicata

John Reynolds stood in the lobby of his office block staring up at the sheets of rain that had just unfolded themselves all over his unremarkable town. He’d just finished an unremarkable day of giving advice to customers of his employer. After a moment, he exchanged nods with the security guard, zipped up his unremarkable coat and stepped out into the downpour.

Stooping along the slick pavement, his head into the wind, he would barely have registered that there was a man in the long dark coat and pulled down hat in his way but for the two words said to him as he moved to go past.

“Mr Reynolds”

Nobody had said those two words to him for more than six years. He stopped short, standing straight, the rain forgotten.

The first thing his brain reached for was the simple lie; “That’s not my name”, but as he became aware again of the rain dripping from his nose and running in rivulets down his coat he realised the futility of denying with his mouth what he had already confirmed with his actions. He felt once more the vague sense of danger he had managed to forget as the years had passed.

“Are you with the police?” he asked.

The man paused, then nodded. “Let’s talk somewhere drier”, he said, and gestured towards a nearby car.

John started to back away. If they knew where he worked, they probably knew where he lived. What was left for him now? “I’m afraid I’m going to have to see some identification” he said.

It was at that point that he stumbled backwards into another man who’d stepped out from behind the car.
“Careful sir”, he said, hand resting firmly on Johns shoulder. With quick efficiency John was guided into the back seat of the car, where he made a dejected puddle in the upholstery.


An hour later the car pulled up outside a miserable concrete construction. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and John had collected himself enough to realise that he was falling apart. Not just emotionally. Over the years, he had come to believe in the new identity he’d forged; now he was losing that, he wasn’t really sure who he was. What did he have left? He knew he was angry though. And scared too.

The two men in the front of the car hadn’t said much to him the whole journey. He’d been trying to guess who they might be working for, but since the building they’d pulled up to was obviously government owned, he was assuming it was something to do with the witness protection program. That didn’t explain their tactics though.

They bundled him through the door quickly, but he was quick enough to read the lettering in black stencilled onto the reinforced glass. “Department of Decided Matters”.

“You’ll be wanting to talk to your lawyer I suppose”, said the man who’d first approached him.

“Do I need to?”.

“Well, you’re under arrest, and will be deported tonight”


“You have a court appointed lawyer, upstairs, first door on the right.”

The stairs were narrow, steep and the plastic underfoot felt cheap. John pushed his way into the cluttered office, and sat down in what was obviously the designated clients seat. His court appointed lawyer was nowhere to be seen. He drummed on the desk to pass the time.

It was then he noticed the newspaper. It was sitting on the top of a stack of papers on the desk as if someone had been reading it before he came in. The date was from six years ago, shortly after he’d been put in the witness protection program. He’d blundered innocently into working for an organised crime syndicate, and had gone to the police as soon as he realised. There were still those who wanted him dead.

The newspaper was one he’d read at the time. Shortly into his new life and new identity, he’d read about the horrific murder of Senator Jackson and the trial of John Reynolds, his killer. Was it just coincidence that the man had had the same name as him? He’d looked very familiar in the photos, grainy though they were. He’d assumed that it had been a clever trick by the witness protection agency to make it look as if he was out of the picture while he got on with his life. He hadn’t followed the case that closely, prefering to concentrate on what was new in his life.

Looking for a Poet

links for 2008-01-24

Guest Author: A genius for leadership, or a genius for being led?

I’m really pleased that guest author Tobe Freeman of wordupcommunications has been kind enough to contribute this article. Tobe is an ex-research biologist who has swapped the lab bench for the keyboard of a macbook pro. He works in Zurich for the Swiss Finance Institute.

For those who care or recall, Blake’s 7 is a BBC Sci-Fi from the 1970s with a cast of misfits fighting against a tyrannical regime called the Federation.

Conventional sounding stuff.

Blake 7 Group

What fascinates me about Blake’s 7 is the unconventional way in which the characters work together.
Roj Blake leads an unruly but talented and specialized team. Thieves, mercenaries and an amoral computer genius called Kerr Avon, everyone is free to do as they please yet the team still manages to achieve amazing things.
Not that the Blake’s 7 management model is easy to define.

Blake: I command this ship.
Avon: Do you indeed?
Jenna: You lead. We don’t take commands.

Blake leads but doesn’t control. There is not much evidence of exploitation or micromanagement. Indeed, Blake doesn’t even inspire a great deal of confidence.

Vila: If it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it – I’ll put the other half on Avon.


Despite this complex state of affairs, Blake’s 7 defines a system of leadership and management that is well adapted to the harsh realities of decision making under uncertainty.


Blake: Have you got any better ideas?
Avon: As a matter of fact, I haven’t.
Blake: Does that mean you agree?
Avon: Do I have a choice?
Blake: Yes.
Avon: Then I agree.

I had to read that twice.

Towards the end of the third series the actor playing Blake, Gareth Thomas, wanted out of Blake’s 7 and the series went on for a further 15 episodes without him. Gareth Thomas agreed to appear in the final episode of the 4th series on condition that his character was killed off completely.

No further series were made.

Having looked around a bit, it seems that no one has come forward with a management theory modeled on Blake’s 7.
Indeed, a book by Chris Blenkarn called ‘Blake’s Seven: The Way Forward?’ makes fun of Blake with stories of an eponymous management consultant with an enthusiasm for half-baked leadership models.

Casting my net a little wider, I find two references that might help to understand the magic of Blake’s system of management.
The first is called The Leaders We Need: And What Makes Us Follow, by anthropologist Michael Maccoby, director of the Project on Technology, Work and Character.

Maccoby argues that the question “What makes us follow?” is at least as interesting as “What makes a leader?”

“For leaders to lead they need the ability to attract followers”, and that means engaging the social character of those around you. The social character of today is shaped by job insecurity, the facelessness of the global market place and constant technological change. We, those that survive, adapt to these conditions by learning and improving continuously and by interacting with each other as much as we can: we have learned that knowledge sharing is our only power.

The character Avon set my mind thinking about an interactive management style when he delivered the following line:
“Is it that Blake has a genius for leadership, or merely that you have a genius for being led?”

My guess is that we’ll all have to develop a genius for being led; the genius part being that we should not take commands. Society has all but dispensed with command management. And it is probably a big mistake for any of us to gamble on one single manager having all the commanding answers. But I don’t want to say too much more about that.

The second source of insight about Blake’7 management is a book called The End of Management by Kenneth Cloke (Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution) and Joan Goldsmith (specialist in leadership development and organizational change).

Cloke and Goldsmith describe how management came into its element with the rise of slavery in Babylonia, Egypt and Rome. In other words it is a bad thing that sits on the debit side of our history.

They claim traditional management is being replaced by a more democratic order in which people manage themselves. Let’s hope that Avon is not correct in his suggestion that this would require genius in everybody. But Cloke and Goldsmith at least have a nice idea.

That brings me to Blake’s 7 dirty secret. The cast enjoys the ample and unfailing services of extremely powerful computers, including a strange talking box of lights called Orac:

Orac: I must point out that this is a gross misuse and an absurd waste of my capabilities.
Avon: Put it on the main screen.
Orac: I will do it only under protest.
Avon: You can do it any way you like, just so long as you put it on the main screen.


Perhaps a little exploitation is unavoidable.